A neat unassuming building flying the US flag and the Saltire on the south-west side of Dunbar's High Street is home to John Muir's Birthplace, a superb small museum devoted to the life and work of, as the name implies, John Muir, who was born here on 21 April 1838.
John Muir moved with his family to the USA at the age of 11. He went on to become a naturalist, explorer, writer, and geologist, and an environmentalist decades before anyone would really have recognised the description. His greatest achievement was taking President Theodore Roosevelt to Yosemite and convincing him that it should be protected as a national park by the Federal Government rather than by State Government.
In the United States, John Muir's memory is kept alive in the naming of the John Muir Trail, the John Muir Wilderness, the Muir Woods National Monument, and in John Muir College, a residential college of the University of California. And in 2005 his image appeared, along with the California Condor and Half Dome Mountain, on the California state quarter dollar.
Back in Dunbar, a country park just to the west of the town is named after him, and John Muir's Birthplace has become a place of pilgrimage for enthusiasts from both sides of the Atlantic. Admission to the museum is free, though donations are both welcome and needed if it is to develop further.
The idea of developing a museum focused on John Muir in the building in which he was born bore fruit with the formation of the John Muir Birthplace Trust in 1998. They had raised sufficient funding for work to begin on the conversion of the building in the Summer of 2002, and the John Muir Birthplace opened to the public on 23 August 2003.
The museum occupies all three floors of the building, and has clearly been designed to stand within the shell of the original structure, with no changes made to it that could not at some point be reversed. The result is an intriguing and highly unusual use of space in a museum which has a very modern feel while still permitting glimpses of the building that surrounds it.
On the ground floor, the reception and shop area is passed on both sides by corridors, one of which is home to a life size figure of John Muir. These lead to an exhibition area and the lift and stairs behind, and to a gallery space at the rear of the building in what feels like it might originally have been the gap between two adjacent houses. The exhibition area on the middle floor follows John Muir across the Atlantic and examines his influences and his early life. The top floor picks up the story of John Muir the writer, the world he lived in, and the legacies he left.